*Spoilers* (But mainly because this show is over 20 years old) I’ll try not to give too much away! The 1990’s brought us The X-Files, and with it one of the most famous and beloved detective duos since Holmes & Watson: FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, played by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson respectively.
UFO’s and paranormal activity was all the rage, there were posters proclaiming “I want to believe” everywhere, and this episode right here is what started it all.
It’s 1992 and something weird is happening in North West Oregon. A scared young woman is running through the woods at night, wearing only a nightgown. All of a sudden, there are leaves swirling up around her, and a white light blinding everyone in sight. Her body is found the next morning with two marks on her back that could be insect bites or taser burns. All the audience knows is that “it” is happening again.
Cut to Washington, D.C. and the J. Edgar Hoover building, the Headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The exterior of the FBI building is something fans will learn to recognise very quickly. It’s here that we meet a fresh-faced Special Agent Dana Scully.
She is being reassigned to a department dealing with unexplained cases known internally as X-Files. Scully is supposed to report back on her new partner, Oxford-educated psycho-analyst Special Agent Fox Mulder, who has become obsessed with the paranormal cases and gained the nickname “Spooky Mulder.”
We also meet The Smoking Man for the very first time, a man whose identity and agenda will not be revealed for several seasons yet. He does, however, seem to have influence at the FBI as well as access to the archives of the Pentagon.
Mulder’s office is located in the basement of the building, past rows of archives and next to the janitor’s closet. Upon entering, Mulder tells Scully that “there’s nothing to see down here but the FBI’s Most Unwanted,” a phrase that endeared Mulder to millions of viewers. He’s clever, he knows he’s being hidden away so he doesn’t cause too much trouble. But he also knows he’s too good at what he does for the FBI to let him go. He knew sooner or later they’d send someone to spy on him. So when he first sees Scully all he asks is “who did you piss off to be stuck with this detail?”
Dana Scully is quickly established as a scientist and sceptic, while Mulder is open-minded, asking her whether she believes in the existence of extra-terrestrials. Mulder must have found out about Scully before she was appointed as his partner, because he as read her dissertation and says so upon their first meeting.
On this very first case together, they travel to Oregon to investigate the girl’s death in the woods and several similar cases from the same town. They experience several phenomena on the way, like turbulence on the plane, the car radio switching stations randomly, all electronics failing simultaneously and the unexplained loss of a few minutes’ time. Mulder is unfazed by all of this, only commenting that “this must be the place” before he spray paints a large X on the road, because X marks the spot.
The investigation reveals that there have been other victims, all of whom belonged to the same graduating class with only three of the friends still alive and the entire town conspiring to cover it up. An exhumation turns up the corpse of a monkey, an autopsy reveals a small implant of unknown origin and Scully finds a mysterious substance in the woods.
When Scully notices that she has the same marks on her back as the victims, she runs to Mulder like a damsel in distress. The duo is met with hostility at every turn. A hotel fire destroys nearly all the evidence the two have managed to gather so far and Mulder, while disappointed, doesn’t seem surprised. All the clues lead them to a boy named Billy, who the two agents have met before. The only problem is: Billy has been in a waking coma since he and his girlfriend Peggy (a wheel-chair bound girl who died as she ran out onto the Highway into oncoming traffic) were in an accident several years prior. Mulder is convinced that the teens were abducted by aliens and someone or something is collecting them for testing, luring them to the forest. Scully and Mulder start to learn to see things from each other’s point of view when the conclusion of the case reveals an unlikely suspect as an accomplice. Mulder gets to witness what actually happens in the woods, while Scully, crucially, is left on the fringes and can’t collaborate his account of events. Back in Washington, she has to defend her report in front of her supervisors, who point out that she doesn’t have any evidence she can base her conclusions on. However, it turns out she can, as she pulls the only piece of evidence that survived the fire, the implant of unknown origin, out of her pocket. It just might not be as unique as she thinks. The one vital thing we learn about Mulder is that his obsession for the X-Files and the paranormal stems from his desire to find out what happened to his sister when he was a child. He believes she was abducted by aliens, can remember the night it happened thanks to hypnosis, and has devoted his life to uncovering the truth and finding her again. It’s this little display of trust towards Scully that helps her understand his reasoning and fascination with the paranormal. To her, he is no longer the “Spooky Mulder” she heard about, the mad guy chasing aliens. He’s essentially still the little boy looking for his sister, trying to find an answer and using everything at his disposal to do so. It’s this genuine vulnerability that makes Scully trust him and side with him even in front of her superiors. A perfect partnership is born.
The chemistry between the two main characters and their actors is evident from the start, which makes The X-Files so special. It’s something the show became famous for. Mulder immediately treats Scully as his equal, despite him being several years her senior, and runs his theories by her to get her point of view as well as her scientific reasoning.
Back in 1993 when The X-Files first aired, the fashion and technology were cutting edge, but if you ever had any doubts about when this show was made, you’d just have to look at the oversized coats and especially Scully’s wardrobe, gold-rimmed glasses, haircuts, phones, car models and computers. By today’s standards it all seems horribly outdated.
Actress Gillian Anderson, who got her international breakthrough thanks to this role, was only 24 in real life, yet her clothes and hairstyle make her look at least 10 years older as Dana Scully is meant to be in her mid-thirties. Chris Carter, the show’s creator, wanted her for the role from the start, but the studio bosses were not convinced and wanted someone older, better known and with more sex appeal. A scene, in which Scully strips to her underwear in front of Mulder during a power cut to examine the marks on her back was probably included to prove the studio wrong about the sex appeal part. But as “Pilot” was the very first episode of a brand new series, it probably also served to appease the male audience, sexist as it might be.
“Pilot” already includes everything that makes The X-Files such a brilliant show. A great dynamic between the two leads with banter and teasing, aliens, unexplained phenomena and conspiracy. Hint: If you watch this episode on DVD, make sure you enable the Deleted Scenes Special Feature. While watching the episode, an “X” will appear on your lower right screen to indicated where two deleted scenes used to be (during the shot of the plane as well as towards the end when Scully looks at her alarm reading “11:22”). Scully was originally meant to have a boyfriend, a TV producer called Ethan. The deleted scenes feature him briefly.